Half Full Glasses

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A new study on math and science testing would appear to offer high praise for America’s public education system. From the NYT‘s report:

American students even in low-performing states like Alabama do better on math and science tests than students in most foreign countries, including Italy and Norway, according to a new study released yesterday.

That, in case you missed it was the glass being classified as half full. If you thought success was high praise, you will learn that Wisconsin ranks in pretty good company, being at or above the league tables of most European countries.

But, according to the study’s author, “the bad news trumps the good because our Asian economic competitors are winning the race to prepare students in math and science.” The Times reporter accents this framing further by quoting Thomas Toch, a co-director of Education Sector, a group with it’s own half full/half empty conflicts, who says this study “shows we’re not doing as badly as some say. We’re in the top half of the table, and a number of states are outperforming the majority of the nations in the study. But our performance in math and science lags behind that of the front-running Asian nations.”

I get the Tom Friedman mantra to some extent, but doesn’t his global flattening thesis of digital communication look somewhat contrived in a doom and gloom sort of way, if it only compares a handful of education systems to the majority of other countries?

Leaving aside his sunny optimism regarding the war and the emergence of “the Friedman,” a tongue-in-cheek neologism coined to express his and others call for a continuing need for just six more months before success will begin to take hold, perhaps the answer to the above metaphor is to suggest that progress in math and science is truly a glass half full story. Pad ourselves on the back for once. There is a good story to be told about America’s public education system. Do we need to strive to do better, obviously. Approaching the future, not from a position of dysfunctionality but from an outlook of building upon our strengths, would seem to be wholly in line with America’s “can do” spirit, a strength we have always shown and should continue to exercise.

Robert Godfrey

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Filed under AMPS, Gimme Some Truth, National News

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